This house is full of some “pretty cool old stuff”, said a child who happened to be visiting the Seven Oaks Museum at the same time as I was last weekend. I agreed with her. I was taking a free guided tour of the site as part of Winnipeg’s Doors Open event.
Bison hair was used for insulation and wooden nails for construction of the house in 1853. It was built by John and Mary Inkster who were prosperous farmers, traders and merchants. The house was called Seven Oaks because of the seven oak trees standing nearby which mark the site of the Battle of Seven Oaks in 1816 between the Hudson’s Bay Trading Company and their allies and the North West Trading Company and their allies.
This artifact is just a little creepy. It is a memorial wreath made of human hair. No doubt the hair is from an Inkster family relative who had passed away. The human hair of a deceased person has been twisted around a wire to create a floral design. Some of these wreaths even had a photo or painting of the dead person in the middle. Apparently women’s magazines at the time often featured designs and patterns for making these hair wreaths.
This is not a fancy tea-cup on a place mat. It is a chamber pot on a braided rug. Before the advent of indoor plumbing chamber pots were kept at the end of the bed for night-time toileting needs. The chamber pot’s more crass name was piss pot.
Here is the tin tub the Inkster family of eleven used for their baths. The water was heated in the stove in the kitchen on the main floor and then hauled upstairs for bathing.
John Inkster, a stone mason came to Canada from the Orkney Islands. So did Mary Sinclair’s father William. However Mary’s mother, who was also called Mary, was Metis, the daughter of a Frenchman and a Cree woman. According to the The Encycolpedia of Saskatchewan, Metis girls were taught to sew and do beadwork already at a young age. Mary Inkster made these beautiful gloves using the needlework skills she was taught by her Metis mother.
The furniture in the house was all hand-made and some of it looked very comfortable, but this padded chair decorated with bison horns would not have been my first choice for seating.
I would probably have also given this caribou footstool a pass.
One of the bedrooms in the Seven Oaks house has a hammock instead of a bed. The room belonged to Colin Sinclair, Mary’s brother, who was a sea-captain. He retired to his sister’s house when his career was over. He was so used to sleeping in a hammock on the ship that he had one installed in his bedroom at Seven Oaks.
Next to the house is the store and post office run by Mary and John Inkster. John imported goods from England by way of Hudson Bay and brought them to the Red River Settlement by York boats. His American goods came from St. Paul by Red River carts. Mary worked in the store and her children said her ability to add up columns of figures and balance accounts was remarkable.
John Inkster was an active member of Winnipeg’s civic, church and business community. Inkster School and Inkster Boulevard in Winnipeg are named after him.
Mary Inkster ran a household for her family of nine children and helped her husband with his business.
It was interesting to get to know Mary and John better by visiting their home and seeing the artifacts it contained. It does hold some pretty “cool old stuff.”
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